After the failed uprising of 1848 Thomas Francis Meagher was tried for sedition and sentenced to be hung, drawn and quatered. At his trial Meagher delivered the now famous speech from the dock
“My lords, it is my intention to say a few words only. I desire that the last act of a proceeding which has occupied so much of the public time, should be of short duration. Nor have I the indelicate wish to close the dreary ceremony of a state prosecution with a vain display of words.
Did I fear that hereafter, when I shall be no more, the country I tried to serve would speak ill of me, I might indeed avail myself of this solemn moment to vindicate my sentiments and my conduct. But I have no such fear. The country will judge of those sentiments and that conduct in a light far different from that in which the jury by whom I have been convicted have viewed them, and by the country the sentence which you, my lords, are about to pronounce, will be remembered only as the severe and solemn attestation of my rectitude and truth.
Whatever be the language in which that sentence be spoken, I know that my fate will meet with sympathy, and that my memory will be honoured. In speaking thus, accuse me not, my lords, of an indecorous presumption in the efforts I have made in a just and noble cause. I ascribe no main importance, nor do I claim for those efforts any high reward. But it so happens, and it will ever happen so, that they who have lived to serve their country—no matter how weak their efforts may have been—are sure to receive the thanks and blessings of its people. With my countrymen I leave my memory, my sentiments, my acts, proudly feeling that they require no vindication from me this day. A jury of my countrymen, it is true, have found me guilty of the crime of which I stood indicted. For this I entertain not the slightest feeling of resentment towards them. Influenced as they must have been by the charge of the Lord Chief Justice, they could perhaps have found no other verdict.
What of that charge? Any strong observations on it I feel sincerely would ill-befit the solemnity of this scene; but I would earnestly beseech of you, my lord—you who preside on that bench—when the passions and the prejudices of this hour have passed away, to appeal to your own conscience, and ask of it, was your charge what it ought to have been, impartial and indifferent between the subject and the crown? My lords, you may deem this language unbecoming in me, and perhaps it may seal my fate, but I am here to speak the truth, whatever it may cost—I am here to regret nothing I have ever done, to retract nothing I have ever said—I am here to crave with no lying lip the life I consecrate to the liberty of my country. Far from it! Even here—here, where the thief, the libertine, the murderer, have left their foot-prints in the dust—here, on this Spot, where the shadows of death surround me, and from which I see my early grave in an un-anointed soil open to receive me—even here encircled by these terrors, that hope which first beckoned me to the perilous sea on which I have been wrecked, still consoles, animates and enraptures me. No; I do not despair of my poor old country—her peace, her liberty, her glory. For that country I can do no more than bid her hope. To lift this island up—make her a benefactor to humanity, instead of being as she is now, the meanest beggar in the world—to restore to her, her native powers and her ancient constitution—this has been my ambition and this ambition has been my crime.
Judged by the law of England, I know this crime entails upon me the penalty of death; but the history of Ireland explains that crime and justifies it. Judged by that history, the treason of which I stand convicted loses all its guilt, has been sanctified as a duty, and will be ennobled as a sacrifice.
With these sentiments I await the sentence of the court. I have done what I felt to be my duty. I have spoken now, as I did on every other occasion during my short life, what I felt to be the truth. I now bid farewell to the country of my birth—of my passions—of my death; a country whose misfortunes have invoked my sympathies—whose factions I sought to quell—whose intelligence I prompted to a lofty aim—whose freedom has been my fatal dream. To that country I now offer as a pledge of the love I bore her, and of the sincerity with which I thought and spoke, and struggled for her freedom, the life of a young heart; and with that life, the hopes, the honours, the endearments of a happy, a prosperous, and honourable home.
Proceed, then my lords, with that sentence which the law directs—I am prepared to hear it—I trust I am prepared to meet its execution. I shall go, I think, with a light heart before a higher tribunal—a tribunal where a Judge of infinite goodness, as well as of infinite justice, will preside, and where, my lords, many, many of the judgements of this world will be reversed.”
Meaghers sentence was later commuted to deportation to Tasmania